Iran denies involvement in Canadian train plot

DUBAI Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:53am EDT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran on Tuesday denied involvement in a plot to derail a passenger train in Canada that police say was backed by al Qaeda elements based in Iran.

Canadian police said there was no indication that the plot was sponsored by the Iranian state, with which Canada severed diplomatic relations last year.

Iran nevertheless reacted angrily.

"No shred of evidence regarding those who've been arrested and stand accused has been provided," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency.

He said al Qaeda's beliefs were in no way consistent with the Islamic Republic, and that Iran opposed "any kind of violent action that endangers lives".

"In recent years, Canada's radical government has put in practice a project to harass Iran and it is clear that it has pursued these hostile actions," he added.

Last September Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran over its nuclear program, its hostility towards Israel and what Ottawa said was Iran's support for terrorist groups.

U.S. officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto.

Canadian authorities arrested two suspects, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, linking them to extremist al Qaeda factions based in Iran.

As a Shi'ite Muslim theocracy, Iran has little in common with the Sunni-based al Qaeda.

However, a U.S. government source said Iran was home to a little-known network of al Qaeda fixers and "facilitators" based in the Iranian city of Zahedan, very close to Iran's borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The source said they serve as go-betweens, travel agents and financial intermediaries for al Qaeda operatives and cells operating in Pakistan and moving through the area.

According to the source, they do not operate under the protection of the Iranian government, which periodically launches crackdowns on al Qaeda elements, though at other times it appears to turn a blind eye to them.

It is also an area where Iranian authorities have battled a insurgency of their own in recent years from Sunni Muslims complaining of discrimination.

The Jundollah group, believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, has claimed several attacks including a bombing that killed 42 people in 2009, and attacks on mosques in Zahedan and elsewhere in the region.

Iran says Jundollah has links to al Qaeda and has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of supporting it to stir instability in the region, allegations that they deny.

(Reporting By Marcus George; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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